The two deputy district attorneys who prosecuted the trucker sentenced last week to 110 years in prison for causing a fatal pileup on Interstate 70 exchanged a trophy-like gift featuring a truck’s brake shoe after the guilty verdict, according to a screenshot of a Facebook post by Deputy District Attorney Kayla Wildeman.
In the undated post, which appears to have since been deleted or made private, Wildeman wrote that Senior Deputy District Attorney Trevor Moritzky, who worked the trial with her, turned a “brake shoe from a semi truck into a memento.”
An image attached to the post shows a gold plaque on an apparent brake part. The plaque includes Wildeman’s name, the case number for the trucker’s case and the phrase “I-70 Case.”
The truck driver, Rogel Aguilera-Mederos, 26, said during the trial that he lost his brakes in Colorado’s high country on April 25, 2019, and could not control the semitrailer he was driving. He ultimately crashed into stopped traffic under an overpass in Lakewood and killed four people in a fiery 28-car pileup.
First Judicial District Attorney Alexis King said in a statement Monday that the brake shoe in question was not a piece of evidence from the case. She said it is not normal for prosecutors to exchange gifts to commemorate trial victories.
“The post was in very poor taste and does not reflect the values of my administration,” the statement said. “We have addressed it internally.”
King said through a spokesman that she became aware of the memento and the Facebook post on Monday morning and “took immediate action.” She did not say what that action was.
Wildeman and Moritzky could not be reached for comment Monday. Moritzky was in June named one of three finalists to become an Adams County Court judge, but was ultimately not selected to fill the post.
Aguilera-Mederos’ defense attorney, James Colgan, on Monday said the gift was “unprofessional.”
“Lives are ruined all around and they celebrate,” he said.
“This is very disturbing,” Tristan Gorman, legislative policy coordinator for the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar, said about the post. “It obviously flies in the face of the prosecution’s ethical obligation to seek justice rather than a conviction… It’s just bragging rights about a trial win, where people on both sides, their lives were either ended or forever changed. The tone of it seems almost like the prosecutor is treating it like a game she won.”
Douglas Cohen, a defense attorney and former prosecutor in the First Judicial District Attorney’s Office, said Monday that “high-fiving colleagues is common for trial lawyers on both sides of the aisle.”
“Anyone who tells you otherwise is holier than thou,” he said. “That said, the brake shoe memento shows a total lack of empathy and dishonors the role of prosecutors.”
Aguilera-Mederos’s 110-year mandatory minimum sentence has been widely criticized since he was sentenced last week, with more than 4.5 million people signing an online petition asking that Gov. Jared Polis commute the sentence.
Conor Cahill, a spokesman for Polis, said in a statement Monday that the office would “expedite consideration” of a clemency application from Aguilera-Mederos, but that the truck driver has not yet submitted a request.
King said last week that she would “welcome” a reconsideration of Aguilera-Mederos’ sentence, despite her office prosecuting the charges that ensured that 110-year sentence.
Aguilera-Mederos’ sentence stretched to more than a century because, under Colorado law, first-degree assault and attempted first-degree assault are so-called “crimes of violence” in which prison sentences must run consecutively, and not concurrently, when they spring from the same incident.
Cohen said the memento should not distract from the larger issues in Aguilera-Mederos’ case.
“Why did the district attorney, who has unfettered discretion in the filing of charges, seek a century-long sentence for a tragic accident?” he said. “It’s a fair question that the legal community and community at large is asking.”
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